17 apr. 2011


I thought skateboarding was dead. Either that, or I was. None of it was exciting in the old way anymore - as sure a sign as any that it was me who was losing it, right? Then a kid on the bus talked about this site different from all others. Not that he explicitly said so - he failed to describe any of it and seemed kind of uncomfortable even trying. What I got out of him, from ten minutes of interrogation there on the bus, were weak leads: something about small-scale, rough transitions at an inaccessible location somewhere north of the train station. He called it Savannen (The Savanna). Was he holding back information? Sure, I was a new face on the scene. But would a kid be that cool under pressure? He had slipped some details about the lay-out of the enigmatic site, then turned conspiciously vague when I showed interested and kept asking about directions to get there.

Thus far I liked what I'd had of Malmö. The indoor skate park at Bryggeriet was incredible, the laid back party scene offered a welcome break from the hype I had left behind, and I couldn't get enough of the good, cheap food around my new neighbourhood. As far as the skateboarding culture went, I had gathered that everyone my age were way superior to me technically and the scene seemed tighter and more intricate than anything I'd ever get my toes in. Up until then I had skated more on my own than I had with others. Skateboarding to me was a way to get out, never to get in. Now, the emerging signs of other skaters with the same agenda, woke that old paradoxical longing for outsider kinship. "People who hade people - come together!" as Bill Hicks put it.

From overheard fragments of conversations at Bryggeriet , I picked up a distinct localist vibe surrounding this Savanna thing. I don't like pushy behaviour and did not want to come charging into something. Still, I went searching through the extensive north harbour by bike. Finally, miss fortuna must have noticed my desperation and sent in my way a skater to accompany me in a late evening mini-ramp session at Bryggeriet. This guy knew about the Savanna and he wasn't impressed. But sure, he said, if I wanted to experience the disappointment first hand, all I had to do was cross the bridge over the train yard, descend a crummy set of stairs, take a back street full with pot-holes past an automobile scrapyard, along lines of rusty freight trains, and before I got to the paper-recycling facility down the road, there would be a deserted industrial lot on my right hand side - that's where I would find this piece of shit skate ground, known as Savannen.

The following day I hit jack-pot. Most of the Savanna crew was there, working on a segment of the main, cornered quarter pipe. I recognised them all from the skate park. Some worked the park, others I had talked to skating. At first I sensed a gap between these calm, skilled skaters, most of them my own age, and this modest skate spot. Small quarter pipes, some bumps and a volcano laid scattered over a limited area of concrete foundation, supposedly the remainder of some long-gone industrial building. Surrounded by wastelands of grass, bushes, rocks, ditches and the rough road I had come paddling down on my bike, I found myself washed-up ashore DIY ground.

For the first two and a half years of construction, concrete was mixed with water in buckets. Stirring the mix with a stick was the hardest work on any construction day. Producing the framework would take its time, with simple tools to assemble the wooden structure and fill it up with bricks - the red gold. Then, in the spring of 2004, came Hauser. In five minutes our world was turned upside-down as he poured the concrete mix onto a piece of plywood and started turning it over with a shovel, adding water as he went along. We all stared at pile of elephant dong and burst into laughter. We couldn't stop chuckle, or shake our heads, or go through these five magic minutes over and over again.  We all felt inhibitions crumbling and in a few days built a full corner, smooth as a baboons ass, and the high, narrow quarterpipe that would be the last to ever be built at Savanna Side.

This was mid-May and the homeless, addicted and mentally ill had been living there since November. They drag enormous amounts of junk with them, on trolleys, bicycles and by roller skate. Some are Johnsons and make a decent living, others deal drugs, and some get funds from collecting copper. Before the invasion by this mixed clientele, Savanna was a place off the map, attracting no attention, except for the spontaneous garbage pile in the furthest corner, where late-night visitors would dump broken refrigerators, ovens and sofas. By the time Hauser revolutionized our conception of mixing concrete, Savanna was definetily on the map of a growing number of people. The police knew it as "Savannen", as did missionary charity workers and the entire Swedish skate scene. And the mainstream bullshit media.

In late October the year before, there had been newspaper reports about a homeless woman, living in an old garage, who allegedly set fire to some garbage to keep herself warm, which caused her death as the fire spread. I became friends with people who had been forced to move from that garage complex due to this unfortunate "accident", and from their accounts it was clear that the dead woman was not likely to be such a dingbat as to set fire to her only refuge from the cold, unforgiving world. She had quite a large sum of money saved in the bank and was preparing to get off the streets and sort out her life. Or so went the story. Whatever happened to her forced others to move for about the fifteenth time in two years. And many of them came to be our Savanna Side neighbours.

Sure, they would have their speed-fits and scream endlessly for hours. On early mornings we would come there to skate only to find their laundry out in the early-morning sun, spread over all coping. But more often some of them - especially this one guy who, with his routines and stories, must be one of the greatest skaters never to have stood on a skateboard - would come down talking or invite you over for coffee, a place by the fire and some honesty. One morning at a bank office up in the city, this could-have-been-a-skater-guy was seen freaking out, facing the dread of que-numbers, forms to fill out, stuck-up clerks, and all the rest. He gave away his ticket and rushed out of that bureaucracy hell, errand undone, not able to take any more of it.

Skating the Savanna in early spring, it was obvious things had got out of control over winter. The garbage pile had grown into a respectable mountain. Between tents and caravans there were the everpresent plastic bags, rust-eaten stripped bicycles, and peeled cable sheaths, covering the still brown grass. We figured it wouldn't look as bad once grass, shrubbery and trees sprouted green, and in late May, after we had emptied the ditches surrounding the skating area from most of the debris, all seemed fine. Our new neighbours even looked after the skate area for us, telling more out-of-control elements of their world to keep their business out of there. Hell, they even helped out watering the hardening  concrete, early mornings after we had built new stuff. Plus, they had a supply of affordable bikes, digital cameras, power tools, inflatable boats and whatever else you could need, passing through their camp.

Of course, this was too good to last.

In Malmo, Sweden, the legendary Savanna projekt was terminated today, June 8th. The first reports say a large number of the transitional structures on the lower court were DEMOLISHED earlier this morning by unknown assailants. Witness reports, yet to be confirmed, tell of bulldozers leading the attack. UNofficials of the Savanna Side Crew has issued a statement, saying ”we have all suffered a loss that cannot be weighed.” Please, stay tuned for the unfolding of this drama, as we report from the melting-pot of harbor-side Malmö, all through the night.

Savanna-side was demolished on 8th of June 2004, may its memory never rest peacefully. We went down there for an evening of skating and beer among peers, and were met by heaps of rubble. Bricks, wood, concrete and sand laid about in the approximate formation of what had taken three years to build. Earlier that day it had all been intact, it must have been wrecked in a couple of hours. The last stuff we built hadn't been up for a month.

Soon after, the once vibrant lot was neutralized, all vegetation removed together with other disturbing signs of life. Fenced in and shut off, the sanitized grounds looked like the temporary loading ground of some Nazi concentration camp railway. Clean. A few weeks before, a local news broadcast did a special on the area, showing only the worst parts of rubbish, abandoned tents and burned down caravans, referring to the site as "the favelas of Rio de Janeiro you may have seen from the train, going to and from Malmö central". At the time, I went in and out of Malmö by train every day, and for obvious reasons I always tried to get at glimpse of Savanna Side. Never had I seen more than the roof of a couple of caravans and, on a good day, the plateau of our extended quarterpipe. Once again, journalism desperate for a striking angle in spite of what even the slightest research would have falsified.

My first impulse, as we had gathered relics from the heaps of concrete rubble, was to take my findings up to city hall and hurl them through the ground-to-ceiling panorama windows by the entrance. I blamed myself for not doing more to prevent disaster from striking and was projecting guilt in all directions. By dawn the next morning, after a night of desperate intake of whatever substances would dissociate consciousness from reality, we were down there to witness the final demolition - there remained some bumps, a vulcano and a tiny quarter-pipe to be torn down. There was no longer time for protest, to chain ourselves to stuff and try to make the nightmare end. We would not wake up from this one. I had to see this, to take it in and let it work me. That is my way in most situations - watching corpses, studying how doctors cut deep in my flesh, facing death squads without blindfolds. And so, after long hours of waiting in the gloomy dawn, we watched as the executioners arrived in pick-ups, followed by a huge, yellow bulldozer. Our presense made them uncomfortable and they even apologized for destroying our "track". They were hired to clear the area; they only followed orders. As usual with the bureaucratic authoritarian machinery, our opponent remained invisible. Decisions were made by one hand, carried out by another. We wanted photographs of the last rite and convinced the undertakers to bulldoze the volcano, bumps and quarterpipe first thing they did, so we could snap those photos and go have breakfast.

My notebook is full of cynic notes from the following days, jotted down in drunk rage as realisation settled. Yet, we kept driving around the harbor in ever wider circles on that bulldozed morning, searching for a new place, somewhere to start over. It was absurd. Like getting over the death of your loved one by shagging whores on the day of her funeral. At least that is how it was percieved by some. And I see their point. However, when I pass away I do not want anyone to give up their dreams in honour of my memory. That would not make sense, not to me. We kept searhing. The sense of defeat soon turned into anger and a feeling of Nothing But Boredom To Lose. We circled the city, suburbs and industrial areas for spots, vacant lots and building materials. These gloomy, coffee and cigarette fueled excursions to the beats of Joy Division, lost their end-of-the-world-feel when we finally settled for a green pasture of chemical wasteland behind the burnt out Fight Club house on Industrigatan (Indystry Street). An avid Hesse reader, I referred to this resurrecting dream land as “Steppen”, from the Steppenwolf novel, which mirrors the existential themes inherent in our larger-than-skateboarding-endeavour that rainy summer.

On the first night that we dumped materials at this new building ground, one of its inhabitants were alerted to our presence. From his defensive reaction, it was obvious that before we could put down flags and load up the ‘crete, we had to talk to our new neighbors. This time, we were the ones moving into hobo territory. By next morning we were summoned to negotiations in one of the main tent camps. We turned up with coffee, pastries and the reasonable prospect of committing to the outmost corner of the vast lot. The local governors woke up, one by one, and joined us for breakfast, morning fags and some liquor to exorcise the cold of night. The meeting went well and we were welcomed to the community with some simple and strict rules of conduct.

Meating protocol (translation):
* Present: skaters (2), the chief, the woman who asked us to come, and a silent type with artistic skills (he kept sketching throughout the meeting and some of it looked interesting).
* Skaters account for their intentions with construction of skate terrain.
* Local officials approve of construction project, on the following terms:
1. No kids (under age) can come skate. Anyone not familiar to the residents may be sent off. (Perfect!)
2. No loud whistling; whistle only to warn of police or as cry for help.
3. Skaters stick to the apointed corner of the lot, not interferring with the rest.
4. All construction within the fence must be camouflaged, preferably in green.
5. No large wooden structures, since a regular visitor is known for her pyromanic tendencies.

The vegetation made the place look decent enough from a distance. Initially we couldn't figure out why such a reserve was left unspoiled within city limits. At our introductionary meeting we were enlightened: there used to be a chemical plant right where we sat. That's where the asphalt, concrete and bricks came from. Now it had to be left unused for 125 years to let the ground recover from past contamination. In the meantime, every square millimeter of ground has been pissed on and all kinds of syringes, condoms and cheap liquor has been added to the chemical waste soil. Digging for the red gold - what is left of the brick walls is underground - I imagine hidden pockets of leathal gases set free under our noses. The arms itch after a day of digging. But, by god, where the locals right about the amount of brick! In two months we uncovered tons of perfect filling. Actually, our method of concealing the poisonous stone in concrete, resemble methods for storage of radiant uranium. Just make sure the seal is not broken in a very long time! "Do not tear down!" has been written on ramps at Steppen, more times than I can remember. This time we knew what could be done with the right tools and that first summer turned into a desperate race to build, build, build. The clearing of Savanna Side may repeat it self at any time, we said, and kept digging.

Politicians don’t acknowledge problems until they are beyond repair. Then they invite the media to tell tales about threaths we all need to be saved from. The year before, a person who put out a container at Steppen, to help the locals get rid of some of the garbage, was fined by the authoritiers, for placing the container without consent from the land owner. No one cares about the problem, but don't you dare mess with the monopoly on "solutions". Now we were entangled in yet another set-up, where this modus operandi only waited to blow up in our faces. And so, we kept digging even faster.

We got corners closing in an open-ended bowl with a big slow quarter in the outer end for rebound speed. At first, getting throwned into that slimmest pocket-corner was like having the spine pushed out of your ass with a bottle-washer - if your knees could hold the pressure. The thought of skilled and experienced skaters eating concrete from getting stuck in there still brings a smile.

Violence surrounded the tents, trees, narrow paths and piles of junk, our neighbours called home. Unloading and leaving the 'crete car behind for half an hour, gave one particular person the idea it belonged to a sex-buyer who must've parked there to assault a woman-commodity.
We didn't hear any of it, but returning to the car gave a very clear impression of what "one particular person" felt about sleazy fuckers cruising the industrial area in search of pink. All windows but one small side pane crushed with a heavy blunt object. Hood and doors deeple dent. Mirrors axed and plate torn. To this our neighbours replied: "This one particular person has 16 different personalities and 11 of them are pyromaniacs." I never grasped if they meant we should be lucky we could still drive the carcass to the scrap-yard or if that information should in some way help me understand the mental dynamics behind her behaviour. Years later, that speed-fueled, bulldozing violence struck again. And again. Until there was not much left.

Is this a territorial thing? Battle for control over a certain patch of land? I don't think so. Sure, these autonomous zones are closely bound to the terrain. But they are temporary and re-emerge when blotted out. The memes of cultural evolution are carried by hosts, such as the waste-lands we have made use of. They/we follow the law of least resistance and grow in the pockets of uncoded fields. We move and we spread, on terra firma and in the land of nod.

To native humans on the Australian continent, the land and they themselves are one. Their widespread landscape is coded in routes and connections - songlines - not in areas with borders, as in most later cultures. In the Dreamtime, the different organisms created the world as it now exists. Everything now, was made then. There are ancestral songlines for wallabies, emus, lizards, insects, bacteria - and with aboriginal people working for salary, now there are Money lines. With the world coded in Illiads and Odysseys across the land, these people weave themselves into the world. As do we.

One way to create mening is to categorize things - kids do it to learn patterns and make predictions. Unfortunately much of our society is stuck in this linear reasoning of observable cause-and-effect. Older children and adults categorize by calling names and making judgements. This or that. Yes or no. Bad or good. One or Zero.

Proposal: Leave evaluation, doubt and fear behind. Accept your perceptions of the world. Do not cling to how this or that relates to you - possession of identity is like any other form of possession: the possessed ends up owning you. In this world, where most everyone wants to tell or sell you something, you must fight for your independence from that matrix, and for your potential to focus on how you wish the world to be(come)! Stop trying to land your tricks. Stomp them!

Back to coding meaning onto ourselves and our surroundings: In the 1990's, architects found the skater perspective on urban terrain and went ballistic over the fact that skaters had what they, themselves, tried so hard to grasp - a personal meaning ascribed to often standardized, sterile, non-offensive architecture. I don't know if architectural discourse ever went anthropoligical and explored different skater perspectives. And I don't give a flying fuck. I try to keep busy, shredding parts out of the ruins and corpses around us, by skating and by weaving them into skate mythology.

When australian railway authorities consulted aboriginal people about songlines and landmarks, the landscape was inspected by car. With this fast-moving mode of transportation the songs were sung faster, but to the frustration of the railway people, most of the terrain showed to be part of some line of mythology. In Bruce Chatwins very cool book, Songlines, his alter-ego then asks if the aboriginals got pissed when their lines were crossed with long lines of metal railways. The aboriginal answer was: No. Why would they oppose to something they would not be able to change? Obviously there are strange creations hidden under the surface of the earth, created in the Dreamtime and hidden for us since. When they appear, they are sung into the matrix of  representation and illusion. Unsung land is dead land. So, sing your songs and add them to the lines.

If you were there, you will be able to read the photos and fill the gaps. The text is a re-mix of notes, covering the seven years that passed from the first photo to the last. One part has previously been published in Confusion #1.

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